of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 10 - Flirtation
Ronald experienced most
intense pain, together with a cold, benumbed feeling in the fractured
limb; but it was as nothing in comparison to the mental torture which he
endured, or the indignant and fierce thoughts that animated his heart. He
entertained a deep and concentrated hatred of the wretch who, aiming thus
maliciously and savagely at his life, had in so daring a manner inflicted
a wound by which he might ultimately lose his arm, and which, for the
present, disabled him from accompanying his comrades, who were rapidly
following up the retreating foe, and eager to engage. As his regiment
belonged to the first brigade of the division, it consequently marched in
front, or near the head of the column, and in his return to Merida he had
to pass nearly 16,000 men ; and the bitterness of his feelings was
increased at the idea that every man there would probably share the honour
of an engagement, of which his mutilated state forbade him to be a
participator. Solemn and deep were the inward vows he took, to seek dire
vengeance for this morning's work on Narvaez Cifuentes, if ever he again
confronted him ; and his only fear was, that he might never meet with him
From the bridge of Merida
he cast a farewell look after his comrades, but naught could he see, save
a long and dense cloud of dust, through which the glitter of polished
steel and the waving fold of a standard appeared at times, as the extended
length of the marching column wound its way up the gentle eminence, above
which appeared the top of the spire of Almendralejo, several leagues
By Pedro Gomez he was
conducted to the stately mansion of Don Alvaro, and delivered over to the
tender care of Donna Catalina, whose softest sympathies were awakened when
the young officer was brought back to her scarcely able to speak, and his
gay uniform covered with blood, for he had lost a great quantity, owing
to the hasty manner in which his namesake, the surgeon, had bound up the
wound. Add to this that he was a handsome youth, a soldier who had come
to fight for Spain, and had but yesternight rescued her brother from death
; the young lady's interest, gratitude, and pity were all enlisted in his
favour. Her large dark eyes sparkled with mingled sorrow and pleasure when
she beheld him, sorrow at the pain he suffered, and pleasure at the
happiness of being his nurse and enjoying his society in a mansion of
which she was absolute mistress, and where there was no old maiden aunt or
duenna to be a spy upon her, or overruler of her movements ; and as for
the scandal of Merida, or quizzing of her female companions, she was
resolved not to care a straw, she was above the reach of either. Her
uncle, the Prior of San Juan, resided in the mansion, but the worthy old
padre was so enlarged in circumference by ease and good living, and so
crippled by the gout, that he never moved further than from his bed to the
well-bolstered chair in which he sat all day, and from the chair back to
bed again, and no one ever entered his room save old Dame Agnes (already
mentioned), who alone seemed to possess the power of pleasing him;
consequently he was never seen by the other inhabitants of the house, any
more than if he did not exist.
We will pass over the
account of the bone-setting by the Padre Men-dizabal, the famous medical
practitioner in Merida, who nearly drove. Ronald mad by an oration on
different sorts of fractures, simple and compound, and the different
treatment requisite for the cure of various gunshot wounds, before his arm
was splinted and bandaged up. Weak and exhausted from the loss of blood,
and his head buzzing with Mendizabal's discourse, right glad was Ronald
when he found himself in a comfortable and splendid couch, Catalina's
own which she had resigned for his use as the best in the house, with
its curtains drawn round for the night; and he forgot, in a dreamy and
uneasy slumber, the exciting passages of the last few days, the danger of
his wound, and the sunny eyes of the donna.
The tolling bells of a
neighbouring steeple awakened him early next morning, and brought his mind
back to the world, and a long chain of disagreeable thoughts.
There is scarcely anything
which makes one feel so much from home as the sound of a strange
church-bell; and the deep and hollow ding-dong which rang from the Gothic
steeple of San Juan was very different from the merry rattle of the
well-known kirk bell at Lochisla. Ronald thought of that village bell, and
the noble peasantry whom it was wont to call to prayer, and the
association brought a gush of fond and sad recollections into his mind. He
felt himself, as it were, deserted in a strange country, among a people
of whose language he knew almost nothing; he looked round him, and his
apartment appeared strange and foreign, every object it presented was
new and peculiar to his eye. He thought of Scotland of home, home with
all its ten thousand dear and deeply impresssed associations, until he
wept like a child, and his mind became a prey to the most profound and
intense dejection, suffering from the home-sickness, an acuteness and
agony of feeling which only those can know who have been so unhappy as to
experience this amiable feeling, one which exists ail-powerfully in the
hearts of the Scots, who, although great travellers and wanderers from
home, ever turn their thoughts, fondly and sadly, to the lofty mountains,
the green forests, and the rushing rivers which they first beheld when
young, and to the grassy sod that covers the dust of their warrior
ancestors, and which they wish to cover their own, when they follow them '
to the land of the leal.'
The feverish state of his body had
communicated itself to his mind, and for several days and nights, in the
solitude of his chamber, he brooded over the memory of his native place,
enduring the acuteness of the nostalgia in no small degree; and even the
fair Catalina, with her songs, her guitar, and her castanets, failed to
enliven him, at least for a time ; his whole pleasure and a gloomy
pleasure it was being to brood over the memory of his far-off home. The
dreams that haunted the broken slumbers which the pain of his wound
permitted him to snatch, served but to increase the disorder ; and often,
from a pleasing vision of his paternal tower with its mountain loch and
pathless pine forests, of his white-haired sire as he last beheld him, or
of Alice Lisle smiling and beautiful, with her bright eyes and curling
tresses, twining her arms endearingly round him, and laying her soft cheek
to his, he was awakened by some confounded circumstance, which again
brought on him the painful and soul-absorbing lethargy which weighed down
every faculty, rendering him careless of every present object, save the
miniature of Alice. The paleness of his complexion, and the intense
sadness of his eye, puzzled his medical attendant, Doctor Mendizabal ; but
neither to him nor to Donna Catalina, who used the most bewitching
entreaties, would the forlorn young soldier confess the cause of his
dejection, concealment of the mental feelings from others being a
concomitant of the disease. So the two formed their own opinions:
Mendizabal concluded it to be loss of blood ; and the lady, after
consulting her cousin and companion, Inesella de Truxillo, supposed that
he must unquestionably be in love, what else could render so handsome an
officiale so very sad?
This conclusion gave him additional interest
with her; and certes, Alice Lisle would little have admired the attendance
upon Ronald's sick couch of a rival, and one so dangerously beautiful; but
her fears might have decreased, had she seen how incessantly, during the
days he was confined to his bed, he gazed upon the little miniature which
Louis Lisle had given as a parting gift. Concealing it from the view of
others, he watched it with untiring eyes, until, in the fervency of his
fancy, the features seemed to become animated and expanded, the
sparkling eyes to fill with light and tenderness, the pale cheek to
flush and the dark curls which fell around it to wave, the coral lips to
smile; while he almost imagined that he heard the soft murmurs of her
voice mingling with the gurgle of the Isla, and the rustle of the foliage
on the banks, where they were wont to play and gambol in infancy.
In a few days, however, his mental and bodily
languor disappeared, and when, by the surgeon's advice, he left his sick
chamber, his usual lightness of heart returned rapidly, and he was soon
able to promenade under the piazzas of the Plaza with Catalina during the
fine sunny evenings; and although the miniature was not less admired than
formerly, the fair original would have trembled could she have witnessed
all the nursing which Ronald received from his beautiful patrona, and
heard all the soft things which were uttered.
As his strength increased, their strolls were
extended, and the young ladies of Merida smiled at each other, and shook
their heads significantly, as the graceful donna, attired in her veil and
mantilla, swept through the great stradi, flirting her little fan, with
the foreign officiate in the plumed bonnet and rich scarlet uniform. His
fair patrona showed him all the remains of Roman magnificence in Merida;
and Ronald, who like most of his countrymen, was an enthusiastic admirer
of the gloomy and antique, explored every cranny and nook of the immense
ruins of the once important castle, surveying with a sad feeling the
pillared halls which once had rung to the sound of the trumpet and the
clashing harness of Spanish chivalry, but where now the ivy hung down from
the roofless wall, and the long grass grew between the squares of the
tessellated pavement. Time had reduced it to little more than a heap of
shattered stones, but it was as ancient, probably, as the days of the
Goths, during whose dominion a strong garrison lay at Merida.
The large amphitheatre, of which the citizens
are so proud, formed another attraction, and its circular galleries were
the scene of many an evening walk with Catalina and her cousin Inesella of
Truxillo, a very gay and very beautiful girl, with whom a great deal of
laughing and flirting ensued in clambering up the steep stone seats, and
rambling through its maze of arcades, arched passages, projecting
galleries, and the long dark dens opening on the arena.
The Roman baths of Diana, a subterranean
edifice of an oval form, containing ranges of dressing-chambers, and a
large stone bathing-basin filled with pure water, formed another object of
interest; and many were the pleasant strolls they enjoyed along the grassy
banks of the Guadiana and by the summit of a high hill (the name of which
I have forgotten), in the shade of the broad trellis, where the vines were
bursting into leaf, and in every green lane and embowered walk about
Merida, even to the hermitage of San Bartolomi, where a white-bearded
anchorite showed them the boiling-hot spring of Alange.
During this intercourse, Ronald rapidly
improved in his Spanish: and who would not have done so under the tuition
of such fair instructresses? He found it pleasing to be school'd in a
strange tongue By female lips and eyes that is, I mean, When both the
teacher and the taught are young, As was the case, at least, where I have
been; They smile so when one's right, and when one's wrong They smile
still more ; and then there intervene Pressure of hands, perhaps even a
chaste kiss : I learn'd the little that I know by this.'
More than one week had slipped away, and
Ronald had nearly recovered from his wound, though still obliged to keep
his arm slung in a scarf. In the garden at the back of the mansion, he was
seated by Catalina's side one evening on the steps of a splendid fountain,
where four brazen deities spouted the crystal liquid from their capacious
throats into a broad basin of black marble, from which, by some
subterraneous passage, it was carried to the Guadiana. The spring was now
advanced, and the delightful climate of Spain was fast arraying nature,
and bringing her forth in all her glory. From the fountain, broad
gravelled walks, thickly edged with myrtle, branched off in every
direction, and between them were beds where the crimson geranium, the
gigantic rose-bushes, the pale lilac blossom, and a thousand other garden
flowers, which it would be useless to mention, were budding in the heat of
the vernal sun by day, and in the soft moist dews by night. Around and
above them the graceful willow, the tufted acacia, the stately palm, the
orange-tree, with its singularly beautiful leaves, and numerous other
shrubs, were spreading into foliage, which appeared to increase daily in
richness of tint and variety ; and beautiful vistas, winding walks, and
umbrageous bowers were formed among them with all the art and nicety of
Spanish landscape gardening.
The young Highlander and Catalina were seated
on the margin of the fountain, as I have already said. They conversed but
little. The donna busied herself with the strings of her guitar, and
Ronald watched in silence the nimble motions of her white hands as she
tied and untied, screwed and unscrewed the strings and pegs, and struck
the chords to ascertain the true tone. Strange and conflicting thoughts
flitted through his mind while he gazed upon his beautiful companion. He
was aware how dangerous to his peace her presence was, and he almost
longed for, yet dreaded the coming time, when he should be obliged to
return to his regiment. To Alice Lisle he felt that he was bound by every
tie that early intimacy, love, and honour could twine around him, honour
! how could he think of so cold a word? and while he did so, he blushed
that he could find room in his heart for the image of another.
'Catalina is very beautiful decidedly so,'
thought he, while he viewed the curve of her white neck, and the outline
of her superb bust. ' Her face is one of surpassing loveliness, and her
eyes but Alice is equally bewitching, although perhaps a less showy
beauty. Alice is very gentle and winning, so lady-like, and we have known
each other so long it is impossible I can forget her. Why, then, have I
been trifling with one whose presence is so dangerous to my peace? Yes 1
if I would preserve a whole heart and my allegiance to Alice, I must fly
from you, Catalina.'
While he reasoned thus with himself, Catalina raised her dark and laughing
eyes to his, while she struck the chords of her instrument, and sang a few
words of a very beautiful Spanish air. So melodious was her tone, so
graceful her manner, so winning the expression of eye, who can wonder that
Ronald's resolution melted like snow in the sunshine, and that he felt
himself vanquished? Poor Alice! With an air of tenderness and
embarrassment he took the little hand of the donna within his own. She
read in his eye the thoughts which passed through his mind ; she cast down
her long jetty lashes, while a rich bloom suffused her soft cheek. Ronald
was about to murmur forth something in fact, he knew not what, when a
loud knocking at the outer gate of the mansion, and the sound of a
well-known voice, aroused him.
'Unbar the yett this instant! ye auld doited
gomeral! I will see my maister in spite o' ye,' cried Evan impatiently,
while Agnes delayed unbarring the door to so boisterous a visitor.
'Caramba, senor! Quien es?' she repeated.
'Gude wife, I speak nae language but my ain;
so ye needna waste your wind by speirin' questions that I canna answer.'
At Ronald's desire, the old housekeeper undid
the door, which was well secured by many a bar and lock, and he
immediately saw the waving plumes of Evan's bonnet dancing above the
shrubbery, as he came hastily towards the fountain, with his musket at the
long trail, and his uniform and accoutrements covered with the dust of a
long day's march. His joy was unbounded on seeing his master, and rapid
and quick were the earnest inquiries he made, without waiting for answers,
concerning his wound, and how he had been treated 'by the unco folk he had
been left to bide amang, begging the bonnie leddy's pardon.'
Catalina bowed, although she knew not a word
that he said; but by the natural politeness and expression of the
soldier's look, she knew that he referred to her.
'Now then, Evan, that I have answered all your
inquiries, be pleased to stand steady, and moderate yourself so far as to
reply to mine,' said Ronald kindly, far from feeling annoyed at his
appearance at a juncture so peculiarly awkward and tender. ' How come you
here just now? and how alone?'
'I got leave frae the colonel, after an unco
dunning, to come here and attend you, for I thocht you would feel yoursel'
unco queer, left alane among the black-avised folk, that canna speak a
decent tongue. But here, sir, is a letter and a newspaper, sent you by
Maister Macdonald.' Evan, after fumbling among the ration biscuits,
shoe-brushes, and other matters which crammed his haversack, produced
them. ' Just as I cam awa' frae the place whar the regiment lay, in dreary
strath a place like Corrie-oich for a' the world seventy miles frae
this, I heard that the order had come to retire to the rear '
'I canna say, sir, because the very moment
that Cameron gied me leave, and Maister Macdonald gied me his letter, I
set off, and have travelled nicht and day, without stopping, except maybe
just for an hour, to sleep by the roadside or to get a mouthfu' o' meat,
trash sic as ane wadna gie to puir auld Hector, the watch-dog at hame, at
auld Lochisla. Oh, it was a far and weary gait; but I was sae anxious to
see ye, sir, that I have trod it out in twa days, in heavy marching order
as ye see me, and I am like to dee wi' sheer fatigue.'
'You are a faithful fellow, Evan; but I fear,
by your love for me, you may work mischief to yourself. Here comes Dame
Agnes, to her care I must consign you. She was a kind attendant to me
when I much wanted one.'
'God bless ye for that, gude wife!' cried
Iverach, catching her in his arms and kissing her withered cheek; a piece
of gallantry which she owed more to Evan's native drollery and his present
state of excitement, than any admiration of her person.
'I believe there is some gaucy kimmer at home,
who would not like this distribution of favour, Evan,' said Ronald ; while
Catalina clapped her hands and laughed heartily at the old dame, who,
although very well pleased at the compliment, affected great indignation,
and arranged her velvet hood with a mighty air.
'It's just quiet friendship for the auld body,
naething else, sir. Even puir wee Jessie Cavers wadna hae been angry,
had she been present and seen me.'
'Cavers Jessie Cavers! I have heard that
name before, surely?
'It's very like ye may, sir,' replied the young Highlander, a flush
crossing his cheek. 'She is Miss Alice Lisle's maid, a servant lassie at
'Oh a girl at Inchavon? I
thought the name was familiar to me, faltered Ronald, reddening in turn.
'But you had better retire and tell the military news to Pedro Gomez, whom
I see waiting you impatiently yonder.'
Reserving the newspaper for another time,
Ronald, with the donna's permission, opened Macdonald's letter.
'This billet is from the army,' said she,
familiarly placing her arm through the young officer's and drawing close
to his side, while she caused his heart to thrill at her touch. 'Ah ! tell
me if there is any news of my brother Alvaro in it?'
' I will read it aloud, translating those
parts you do not understand. It is dated from Villa Franca:'
'Fassifern and the rest of ours are anxious to know how you are, after
that wound you received so villainously, and from which I hope you are
almost recovered by this time. Send us word by the first messenger from
Merida to the front. Remember me particularly to the fair Catalina, and I
assure you that your quarters at present in her splendid mansion are very
different from mine here, in a wretched hut, where the rain comes in at
the roof, and the wind at a thousand crannies. You may congratulate us, my
old comrade, on the easy victories we obtain over Messieurs the French,
who have been driven from Almendralejo, and all the places adjacent, with
little loss on our part. I now write you from a village, out of which our
brigade drove them a few days ago. How much you would have admired the
gallantry of our Spanish friend Don Alvaro, who accompanied us in this
affair. On our approaching the enemy, they retired without firing a shot
at first, and his troop of lancers, who were halted on the road leading to
Los Santos, charged them at full gallop, shouting Viva Ferdinand! Espana!
Espana y buena Esperanza!'
'Noble Alvaro! my brave brother!' interrupted
Catalina, her eyes sparkling with delight. ' I will always love this
officiale for what he says. Oh! that Inesella were here! She is betrothed
to Alvaro, senor, and would have been wedded long since, but for a quarrel
they had about Donna Ermina, the wife of old Salvador, the guerilla
'It was a
noble sight,' continued the letter, 'to see the tall lances, levelled to
the rest, the steel helmets flashing in the sun, and to hear the clang of
the rapid hoofs, as the Spaniards rushed down the brae and broke upon the
enemy with the force of a whirlwind, a thunderbolt, or anything else you
may suppose. Campbell protested it equalled the charge of the Mamelukes,
when he " was in Egypt with Sir Ralph."
Alvaro has now gone off to join Murillo, where
he hopes to meet Don Salvador de Zagala, whom he vows to impale alive. He
left me but an hour ago, and desires me in my letter to send a kiss to his
sister. This, I dare swear, you will be most happy to deliver.'
Ronald faltered, and turned his eye on
Catalina, who blushed deeply. It was impossible to resist the temptation ;
her face was very close to his, and he pressed his lips upon her burning
senor mio,' she said, disengaging herself with exquisite grace; 'perhaps
there may be more about Alvaro?
'Ronald glanced his eye over the next
paragraph, and passed it over in silence and confusion.
'A little flirtation en passant, you know,
will not injure your allegiance to the fair ladye whose miniature but
you may burn my letter without reading further, should I write much on
that subject. Angus Mackie, a private of your company, was the other night
engaged in a regular brawl with the natives of Almendralejo, some love
affair with the daughter of an old abogado (lawyer). I refer you for the
particulars to the bearer, who was engaged in it. We had another row at
Almendralejo the day we entered it. Some Spaniard, by way of insult, ran
his dagger into the bag of Ronald Dim's pipe, and so great was the wrath
of the "Son of the Mist," that he dirked him on the spot; and although the
fellow is not dead, he is declared by Doctor Stuart to be " in a doubtful
'I have sent
you an Edinburgh paper (a month or two old), wherein you will see by the
"Gazette" that a Louis Lisle has been appointed to us, vice poor Oliphant
Cassilis, killed in the battle of Arroya. There are people of the name in
Perthshire; perhaps you may know something of this Lisle.'
The blood rushed into Ronald's face, and a
mixed feeling of pleasure and shame to meet the brother of Alice filled
his mind. He read on:
'I was just about to conclude this long
letter, when some strange news arrived. Ciudad Rodrigo has been invested,
and it is supposed must capitulate soon. Our division has been ordered by
Lord Wellington to retire into Portugal forthwith; the "gathering" is at
this moment ringing-through the streets of Villa Franca, and the corps is
getting under arms. Adieu, etc.
'P.S. L. Lisle is at Lisbon, bringing up a
detachment for ours, a hundred rank and file. I do not know what route
we take for Portugal; but you had better endeavour to join us on the way.'
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